Stuntman, touring around Scotland until mid-October, is an exploration of the impact of violence on men, told through recreations of iconic movie scenes, mixed with personal stories from the lives of the two performers, Sadiq Ali and David Banks.
Violence has become so endemic within movies, that its inclusion within any particular movie has become somewhat trite, and predictable. This show highlights that absurdity as it recreates famously violent moments, each time using the same line of dialogue. It’s a surprisingly effective technique for demonstrating how absurd the repeated presentation of stabbings, shootings, and even poisonings, has become.
Ali and Banks frame all of this in a very humorous manner that blurs the lines between fiction and reality constantly. This isn’t a traditional piece of theatre, rather it’s a story told overwhelmingly through physical movement, and staged in traverse, meaning that the audience are seated close to the action. There’s a sense that we’re watching a fight in progress, as tropes of the boxing ring, and MMA arena form the components of a set that is beyond minimalist. Reinforcing the movie aesthetic is a lighting arrangement of green and red that is strongly reminiscent of 3D glasses. And that’s the point – we’re seeing movie tropes in real life, watching two men repeatedly attack each other in pre-arranged, highly choreographed sequences.
Recalling Die Hard, The Matrix, Rocky, every Western movie ever conceived, every ‘Kung Fu’ movie of the 1980s, and even the wrestling that used to be on TV on Saturday evenings, we’re shown time and again that the implication that to be A Man you must use violence is an accepted part of western culture. But Ali and Banks show us that this on-screen violence was never real. By playing up the ‘deaths’ of each victim to an absurd level, and by making no attempt to conceal pulled blows, or the fake nature of their ‘guns’, they expose the myth that violence is always the answer.
Where this show excels is in the more personal narratives interwoven around the recreated fight scenes. Banks talks emotively of his experience as an MMA fighter, his brush with low-budget film making, and his understanding that violence was the only way to survive. Ali describes his fantasy of standing up to homophobic bullies, and how that refusal to back down would lead to tragedy. Both Ali and Banks make it clear that they’ve become aware of their need to fear men – and, as they both identify as queer, to specifically fear the straight men who will belittle, threaten and bully them if they don’t land the first punch. Aggression is shown to be a perpetual cycle, from which escape is, if not impossible, extremely difficult.
This is a confronting piece of theatre, that avoids lecturing, but demands engagement and consideration of inherent violence that has been reduced to a mere form of entertainment. There are some beautiful moments when the physical movement feels balletic, and there’s a fantasy dance sequence that’s a lot of fun. Indeed, there is a lot of fun in this production, and you shouldn’t feel that it’s going to all be terribly worthy and depressing. Also of note is the presence of Iain Hodgetts, who is the BSL Interpreter for this show. As is becoming more common, he isn’t just dressed in black and shoved on the edge of the stage, but is fully included in the action of the piece, and moves around he performance area as the story unfolds, engaging the audience throughout.
With occasional very strong language, mention of an attempted suicide, references to homophobia and racism, and, of course, ongoing, albeit comedically presented violence, this is not a show for a younger audience, but should be suitable for anyone over the age of sixteen.
Tour dates can be found here: http://superfanperformance.co.uk/dates/